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Friday, January 2, 2015

Owen Delany Park, Taupo

My Khandallah correspondent and myself have just returned from our Christmas trip to the Waikato (for Christmas, she added the 1958 Wisden to the yellow-spined brotherhood on the library shelves at My Life in Cricket Scorecards Towers, regular readers will be pleased to hear).

There and back we passed by Owen Delany Park on the outskirts at Taupo, in the central North Island. Last year we stopped there to give the dog a run and had a walk round (the accompanying photos are from that visit).
Its location is spectacular, surrounded by forest and overlooked by the dormant volcano Mt Tauhara. On a clear day, the volcanic triplets Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngarahoe and Mt Tongariro, snow-capped and ready to rumble, can be seen across Lake Taupo. The lake is the biggest volcano of the lot. When it last let loose, in 176 AD, writers in China and Rome commented on the curious colours of the skies, unaware that were looking at volcanic detritus from Taupo. There has been no bigger eruption anywhere on Earth since.



The ground itself is quintessential New Zealand, perfect for watching under blue skies from the roomy grass banks that form the arena.

What a shame then that it is not a cricket ground any more. The park is still a venue for King Country rugby and there was an athletics track marked out when we were there, but there is no longer a cricket block on the main ground. Bat and ball are relegated to the outer ovals behind the stand.

Not so long ago, Owen Delany Park was a regular host of Northern Districts matches, and an international venue too, staging ODIs over the holiday period from 1999 to 2001.


Owen Delany Park and its ineffective floodlights
It was the ground at which I first watched cricket under lights, and from where I first reported for CricInfo, so it has good associations for me besides being a pleasant place to watch cricket.

The floodlit game was played between Northern Districts and Otago in my first New Zealand summer, just after Christmas 1997. I say “lights”, though the pallid luminosity that emanated from the four towers stationed for that purpose around the ground barely warranted the term. The point when the power of the artificial light surpassed that of the natural light would never have been reached under a full moon.

The lack of effective lighting was the main reason for Owen Delany Park’s downfall. Seddon Park in Hamilton acquired state-of-the-art lights in 2002 and took over the day/night games that had previously gone to Taupo. In the last few years, Northern Districts has had an enhanced choice of venues, with new grounds, both with excellent facilities, at Mt Maunganui and Whangarei.

A little under two years later I was back at Owen Delany Park, this time with pen in hand. I had recently forsaken educating for the freelance life, and planned to send CricInfo daily reports on New Zealand A v the West Indians. These were the infant days of digital communication when “wireless” still meant the old wooden radio in your grandparents’ loft. I wrote the pieces at the ground then at the close of play drove back to Rotorua, an hour away, to key them in before dispatching them at (if I was lucky) 56 bytes per second. Yet we were happy then.

The results can be seen here.
The reader is invited to compare my reports with those of the Barbados NationI have yet to hear from Bridgetown regarding my pleasantly worded suggestion that they might pay me for my material.

Shiv Chanderpaul’s double century was the feature of the match. He was then what he is now: the Thomas the Tank Engine of batsmen, not much to look at, but reliable and steady, getting to the destination ahead of the bigger, flasher engines in the shed. Here’s the scorecard.

CricInfo liked this and other unsolicited pieces that I supplied for the daily newsletter that season, enough to give me regular work when a New Zealand operation was set up for the 2000/01 season. Until the money ran out three years later, my patch was pretty well everything south of Auckland and north of Wellington. Taupo was right in the middle of this area, so I returned there often.
The main stand (also the only stand). CricInfo used to operate from benches at the back of the stand.
 

Even by the congenially high standards of New Zealand’s cricket grounds, the hospitality at Owen Delany Park was particularly warm and welcoming. Interesting people passed through and were happy to chat (no doubt seeing my attempts to present myself as a hard-nosed journalist for the sham they were). They included Sir Richard Hadlee, John Bracewell, and John R Reid, who reminisced about the 1949 tour of England.

Our usual station was the radio commentary box where Radio Sport’s Phil Stevens was pleased to have the assistance of CricInfo’s live scorer, usually the excellent Gareth Bedford, and myself.

We reported on plenty of good cricket from Owen Delany Park, notably a couple of one-day games between the New Zealand and South Africa under-19 sides, including Hashim Amla and Johann Botha (then a tearaway quick rather than the bent-armed spinner who was to become South Africa’s one-day captain) for the visitors and Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder for the hosts. I am relieved that my reports show that, by and large, I could spot who the good players were.

The last ODI to be staged at Owen Delany Park was played between New Zealand and Zimbabwe, just after New Year 2001.  I was there as a spectator. Zimbabwe won the game convincingly, a brilliant display of reverse-sweeping by Andy Flower doing much to get them into a winning position. New Zealand won the second game only for Zimbabwe to take the series with a one-wicket win at Eden Park.

At that time, Zimbabwe were well on the way to establishing themselves in international cricket in a place similar to New Zealand’s: on the second level, but with the capability to surprise the best teams quite often. Mugabe’s tyranny put an end to that, reducing the country to also-rans with no prospect of improvement in the foreseeable future.

Owen Delany Park and Mote Park bear a passing resemblance to each other if the Photoshop of the mind replaces the chalk of the North Downs with Lake Taupo’s igneous outpourings. Both are places where the cricket has been good and the sun bright, but where I am unlikely to set up my folding chair on the grass bank again.

 

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